Thursday, August 16, 2007

Considerable promise for Internet access in TV "white spaces"

I've written a lot lately about the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auction, but there's another spectrum-related proceeding at the FCC that also holds promise for expanding Internet access to more Americans: opening unused “white spaces” in the television spectrum bands for broadband service. These unused channels will become even more useful for broadband applications once broadcasters vacate some of this spectrum as part of the February 2009 digital television transition.

A Washington Post editorial today does an excellent job explaining the promise of this unique spectrum:

Coveted bits of the radio spectrum called "white spaces" -- unused areas of spectrum wedged between licensed TV channels -- may soon be freed up by the Federal Communications Commission. Right now no broadband devices are allowed to use these parts of the spectrum, but the FCC is considering whether to let companies sell FCC-certified wireless devices that would be used without an exclusive broadcast license in these slivers of bandwidth. Such white-space devices (WSDs) would be low-power and so would emit signals over very small geographic areas. White space within the TV band is unlicensed, like WiFi, but is physically better suited than WiFi for broadband transmission.

Google and other companies (including Dell, EarthLink, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Microsoft, and Philips) have formed the "White Spaces Coalition," to persuade the FCC to establish appropriate interference standards that would allow entrepreneurs to develop fixed and mobile devices that utilize these airwaves. Earlier this year, the coalition submitted two prototype devices (from Microsoft and Philips) to the FCC's engineers to demonstrate the feasibility of this approach.

The FCC's engineering analysis, released two weeks ago, confirms what we have stated all along: it is technologically feasible to provide Internet access through this segment of spectrum without interfering with either digital television signals or wireless microphones. While one of the prototypes unfortunately was damaged, the other prototype fully demonstrated the promise of using these "white spaces" for Internet access. The coalition filed comments at the FCC yesterday responding to these test results.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has expressed a keen interest in keeping this matter moving forward, and the coalition will be working with FCC staff to address any remaining technical issues. As the Washington Post notes today, the promise that this spectrum holds for bringing the Internet to more Americans is too great to ignore:

Certainly the FCC shouldn't approve WSDs that will obliterate TV. But just because these prototypes fell short doesn't mean the technology can never work. The limited success of these devices and another designed at the University of Kansas certainly gives hope that someday a non-interfering product could exist. After all, low-power wireless microphone operators often already use white spaces for similar short-distance broadcasts without a license -- although they're supposed to get licenses -- and they coexist peacefully with TV stations...Given the good that could come out of using this unoccupied bandwidth, the FCC should continue to encourage WSD research and development.


Darnell Clayton said...

Thanks for posting about this Google!

I am currently looking for a new internet carrier (and will perhaps consider wireless internet).

The one I currently have was "okay," until they recently got bought out by a larger company known for treating its customers like dog food.

I'd switch away in a heart beat, except for the fact that my only other option is a company that is just as bad. :-(

Here's to hoping that you (and Microsoft, Dell, Earthlink, etc.) can rescue us all.

lklepner said...

Much like the Fed spurs financial investment by lowering interest rates, the FCC should spur broadband development by open up new technological opportunities, such as allowing whitespace-based wireless techniques to be developed.

I hope the Chairman of the FCC will step up to this challenge.

Drywall said...

Thanks for posting on this, Richard. Unlicensed spectrum use and maximizing the utility of whitespaces are critically important spectrum-management issues that seem to continually get lost in the ballyhoo of the 700 MHz battles.

It's a shame it takes the weight of multibillion-dollar industries to get the FCC to consider changing the way it allocates spectrum -- the "public interest" crowd can holler for years to no avail.

fusion said...

Google and partners must continue testing equipment and showing clear no-interference service,go for it ! , the TV Networks Spectrum belongs to the Taxpayers,all of them,the Broadcasters and TV Studios-Corp.-Networks never paid a dollar for the spectrum, how can they tell the owners,the taxpayers,what they can or cannot do with their Spectrum? take it to the people!... and remember that the Hollywood Studios,the neocon lobby and the TV Networks are the same team and they will put their own people inside your team to know how you are doing ,watch it ! and good luck !

Richard said...

Unfortunatly at 2 recent tests of the equipment, one at a pro football game and the other at Phantom of the Opera in NYC, the devices essentially failed! They showed several false posititves for nearby transmissions. They also missed some transmissions, which likely would have meant that the whitespace devices (had their transmitters actually been turned on) would have stepped all over the wireless systems in use by the events.

Also TV studios do pay for their airwaves. They have to buy a license and keep it current.

Taking away the so called whitespace, who is that really going to hurt? Small local and regional broadcasters that is who. Does anyone really think that some small local interest TV channel is going to be capable of competing finacially with the likes of Google and M$? Please!

This whole site is just a marketing campain to convice Joe user to call his congressperson to help Google get what they want so they can make big bucks! That's all.. plain and simple!

The FCC has already sold off plenty of bandwidth to these giants. We have already lost about 12 UHF TV channels at least worth of bandwidth. Who did that get sold to? Big wireless companies and some was spared for emergency government communications.

This campain is not about returning anything to the people.

If you want your cool wireless stuff at the cost of throwing away all your wireless microphone technology well, then sign away at that petition. But don't be delusional in thinking that Google and MS and all the other players have anything but their own self interest in mind here.

Richard Ingraham